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The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Approved | | Biography, Drama, History | 11 November 1939 (USA)
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A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.

Director:

Michael Curtiz

Writers:

Norman Reilly Raine (screen play), Æneas MacKenzie (screen play) (as Aeneas MacKenzie) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 5 Oscars. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Bette Davis ... Queen Elizabeth
Errol Flynn ... Earl of Essex
Olivia de Havilland ... Lady Penelope Gray
Donald Crisp ... Francis Bacon
Alan Hale ... Earl of Tyrone
Vincent Price ... Sir Walter Raleigh
Henry Stephenson ... Lord Burghley
Henry Daniell ... Sir Robert Cecil
James Stephenson ... Sir Thomas Egerton
Nanette Fabray ... Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (as Nanette Fabares)
Ralph Forbes ... Lord Knollys
Robert Warwick ... Lord Mountjoy
Leo G. Carroll ... Sir Edward Coke
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Storyline

This period drama frames the tumultuous affair between Queen Elizabeth I and the man who would be King of England, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Ever the victor on the battlefield, Devereux returns to London after defeating Spanish forces at Cadiz. Middle-aged Elizabeth, so attracted to the younger Devereux but fearful of his influence and popularity, sends him on a new mission: a doomed campaign to Ireland. When he and his troops return in defeat, Devereux demands to share the throne with the heir-less queen, and Elizabeth, at first, intends to marry. Ultimately sensing the marriage would prove disastrous for England, Elizabeth sets in motion a merciless plan to protect her people and preserve her throne. Written by IMDb Editors

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Elizabeth I's love for the Earl of Essex threatens to destroy her kingdom.


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

11 November 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Essex and Elizabeth See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$1,075,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Vitaphone)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Bette Davis had originally wanted Laurence Olivier for the role of Lord Essex, claiming that Errol Flynn could not speak blank verse well. She remained extremely upset about this through the entire filming, and Flynn and Davis never worked again together in a film. According to Olivia de Havilland, she and Davis screened the film again a short while before Davis suffered four strokes in 1983. At film's end, Davis turned to de Havilland and declared that she had been wrong about Flynn, and that he had given a fine performance as Essex. See more »

Goofs

The scores that Korngold wrote for this movie and for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD are perfect for creating a spirit of epic heroism; as regards music history, however, they are all wrong. The Late Romantic bombast of both these pieces is totally inappropriate for the Middle Ages and for the 16th Century, whose musical styles are well known. See more »

Quotes

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex: [after being slapped hard by Queen Elizabeth I] I would not have taken that from your father the King; much less will I take it from a king in petticoats!
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Feud: Abandoned! (2017) See more »

Soundtracks

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (Come Live With Me and Be My Love)
(posthumous 1599) (uncredited)
:yrics by Christopher Marlowe
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Played on piano by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and sung by Nanette Fabray
See more »

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User Reviews

 
New DVD version makes the film twice as compelling...fine performances...
22 April 2005 | by DoylenfSee all my reviews

Watching the newly restored DVD version of THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX gives this viewer a new appreciation of the lavish attention to detail in sets, costumes--and even the performances surrounding BETTE DAVIS in her showcase role as the Queen who is unwilling to let the ambitious Earl of Essex share her throne. Flynn fans won't be disappointed either. He's never looked handsomer as Lord Essex.

Davis seems unwilling to let anyone else steal the thunder from her fidgety display of histrionics. Costumed in the most brilliant array of historically correct costuming ever dreamed up by the Warner costume department, she gives a commanding display of histrionics that will fascinate even those who will undoubtedly accuse her of overacting or chewing the scenery on occasion.

And what scenery! Seldom has the lavishness of a Warner costume epic been captured by cinematographers as here. All of the courtroom scenes have the stately dignity and majesty of inspired paintings. And yet, despite all the rich atmosphere of court settings, the performances stand out as uniquely individual characterizations, thanks to Michael Curtiz's firm direction.

ERROL FLYNN, despite a few weaker scenes in the film's final moments, does a sterling job as Essex, matching Davis' fiery temperament with a strong display of courage, cunning and nobility as Essex.

OLIVIA de HAVILLAND, while demoted to a supporting role by Jack Warner (who never forgave her for outwitting him in her move to play a loan-out role as Melanie in GWTW), is breathtakingly gorgeous and shows that beneath that demure surface lurked an actress with sparks of her own to share with Davis.

The glittering supporting cast includes such stalwarts as Vincent Price (handsomely attired as Sir Walter Raleigh), Henry Stephenson, Donald Crisp--and in an uncredited role as a member of the Queen's guard, John Sutton. Notable in a small but effective scene is Nanette Fabray, at the very start of her career on screen.

Not historically accurate as far as Maxwell Anderson's legend goes (there was no romance between Elizabeth and Essex), but this is a fascinating version of his stage play, "Elizabeth the Queen".

Alan Hale does a superb job in a brief role as Tyrone (with Irish accent), cast as Errol's foe for a change. Watch the color cinematography in the marshes scene--subtle shades of pastel amid the fog shrouded swamps.

A magnificent, pulsating background score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold adds to the intrigue. The film itself is not entirely flawless--there are several scenes that move much too slowly. But all in all, it captures the court intrigue and sympathetically reveals the demands that a Queen must face when her throne is challenged by men just as ambitious (and ruthless) as she is to rule.

Director Michael Curtiz keeps things visually stirring throughout, as is his customary practice.

A final note: It cannot be emphasized enough that the new DVD version brings out all of the detailed splendor of sets, costumes and photography and makes it all the more compelling to watch. In fact, the whole viewing experience is quite different from the VHS version.


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